Having first discovered Alatriste through mention of the Spanish RPG based on it, and then later by purchasing The Sun Over Breda, I found it impossible to resist buying this one as soon as I saw it. Perez-Reverte is one solid writer of whom I’ve learned to have high expectations, and once again he has delivered. And how!
In this adventure, Alatriste and his companion Inigo Balboa join a Spanish corsair crew raiding Turkish shipping in the Mediterranean, with stopovers for additional mayhem in North Africa. There’s action aplenty, and the climactic battle in which our heroes are besieged at sea by a squadron of Turkish galleys is particularly inspiring. Better yet, there’s a lot of historical and cultural detail, lots of flavor that a game master can take away for use in a swashbuckling 17th century campaign.
Through it all, though, Perez-Reverte’s narration is surprisingly understated, very matter-of-fact, and there’s not too much suspense because you know the main characters lived – it’s a first person narration, and the narrator keeps referring to episodes that occurred after this adventure; but it’s incredibly engaging all the same for the color and perceptiveness of human character Perez-Reverte gives. The author pulls no punches in describing the seamier side of human nature at war, so you’re keenly aware of the price being paid for every life taken by Alatriste’s and Balboa’s blades.
Like the other Alatriste adventures, the story is narrated by Inigo Balboa, and here again Perez-Reverte shows interesting technique. The title character, Alatriste, doesn’t change -- he’s still the grim, taciturn, thoughtful, impoverished yet refined swordsman of the earlier novels, though we get some more interesting glimpses of his past. Instead, it’s Balboa who’s changing, his attitudes and viewpoints evolving as he grows older and more confident, though not necessarily wiser.
It’s amusing to read how Alatriste plots to save the young Balboa from assassination by some gamblers in Naples, even after a heated exchange that could’ve resulted in a duel, had Alatriste been less attached to the boy. It takes intervention by their Moorish companion Gurriato to prod Balboa into reconciling with Alatriste, and only at the vespers of a battle in which they’re both likely to die. Definitely great man-reading.
Make no mistake, I enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean and Jack Sparrow’s antics immensely. It’s like saying I like hot chocolate. But I also like a smooth, strong port – and that’s what Pirates of the Levant is.